It’s going to be a real fight in the South Texas Democratic primary

by | Nov 15, 2019 | 2020 Elections, Politics

On Thursday, South Texas congressional hopeful Jessica Cisneros said she is finding it difficult to pinpoint which of the many issues her campaign will deploy to challenge her Democratic rival, longtime Rep. Henry Cuellar. 

“The fact that [Cuellar is] anti-choice, the fact that he has an A rating from the NRA, the fact that he’s anti-worker, there are just so many issues to go after him on,” Cisneros, the 26-year old immigration attorney, said in an interview on Thursday. “Fortunately and unfortunately, we’re having a tough time figuring out what issues we’re going to be focusing on because there’s just so much to go after.”

Cuellar has voted in-line with Trump’s agenda almost 70 percent of the time during the 115th Congress.

Cisneros announced her bid for the 28th congressional district, which stretches from San Antonio to Laredo, in June. Since then, she’s amassed $463,000 in grassroots donations and earned several high-profile endorsements, including former President Barack Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and the nation’s most prominent group that helps elect women to office, Emily’s List.

The primary is March 5, 2020.

Here are additional excerpts from our interview:

On entering politics  

“Growing up I saw the laws that were affecting my community weren’t created with people like me, my parents and my neighbors in mind,” Cisneros said. “I always wanted to be an advocate. I always thought that advocacy was going to take the form of me litigating cases in court, but as you can imagine under the Trump administration that work became very hard. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, it was incredibly heartbreaking seeing families like mine torn apart.”

On a winning a progressive message in South Texas

“You’re talking about a deep blue district where the Democrat always wins with 60 to 80 percent of the vote, sometimes even higher than that,” Cisneros said. “That means everything is coming down to the primaries, and if you don’t have a challenger, it means you’re basically guaranteed re-election.”

“We’re safe blue district and yet we’re being represented by one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress Who voted with Trump 70 percent of the time.”

Cisneros said Cuellar has leaned into stereotypes of South Texas that make the region appear more conservative than it is. In truth, she said, many of Cuellar’s votes can be explained by donations from special interests. Cuellar, along with Cornyn, has been one of the top recipients for cash from a leading private detention company PAC.

The border wall

“Something that’s at the forefront of many people on our district, is where we are on the immigration issues,” Cisneros said. “One of the most upsetting votes that Cuellar has voted on is voting to fund the wall. You’re talking about a district that’s right on the border. You’re talking about constituents getting their land taken away, land that they have lived on for six generations with their families. And they feel very betrayed.” 

Photo: Jessica Cisneros for Congress | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at

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